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'The Race Trap' by Robert L. Johnson and Steven Simring

Books on Business: ‘The Race Trap’

Sunday, April 22, 2001

By the Business Librarians at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh


The Race Trap

By Robert L. Johnson and Steven Simring



You are a white supervisor, and four black secretaries ask to speak to you about their perception of a hostile workplace atmosphere.

You are a black sales associate in an upscale department store, working on commission, and you sense that white customers often avoid you.

How would you handle these situations? Two professors of psychiatry at the New Jersey Medical School (Dr. Johnson is black, Dr. Simring is white) have designed many such scenarios and a choice of resolutions for each so that you can determine your RQ, or Racial Intelligence Quotient. What follows are multiple insights and practical advice on how to avoid charged situations and become a “smart racial communicator.”

In the workplace, entrepreneurs, executives, salespeople and job applicants can benefit greatly from becoming sensitive to how one’s race can affect communication. An inadvertent word or gesture can instantly turn off a customer, employee or interviewer, or worse, instigate a lawsuit. The book also covers everyday situations, such as those that arise at the doctor’s office, a PTA meeting, the airline ticket counter, the police station and the college admissions office, and analyzes them clearly and honestly.

Just how important the message of this book is can be seen in the results of the just-released Census 2000 results, counting one of every three Americans as a minority group member. Although the book focuses on black/white interactions, the lessons learned apply to all ethnic groups. The authors’ goal is to improve communication between people of different races -- not necessarily to persuade people to love one another -- in the goal of enabling companies to be more productive, and people to live more harmoniously. The chapter on “raising a racially smart child” will help you prepare yours for an increasingly diverse America.

In an ideal world, a person’s race shouldn’t matter, but we see evidence every day that it does.

You may not always agree with the interpretations and suggestions that the authors present, but you will certainly benefit from exploring ways to keep your interactions bias-free.

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